El Mundo es un Pañuelo*

The Community of Madrid’s plan for dealing with Covid’s second wave was going to be much more surgical this time around, the powers-that-be said a month ago. No more broad strokes like last spring: we’re going to get in there and excise cases with a scalpel!

Thus, in mid-September, 37 health areas, most of them in the southern part of Madrid, most of them crowded, most of them working-class, were only allowed in and out of their health area for essential activities such as going to school or work, for 2 weeks.

Governmental fisticuffs immediately ensued. The national government said Madrid’s yardstick of 1000 cumulative cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the past 14 days was too loose. (Some European standards set the risk threshold at 50 cases per 100,000.) They had a different plan; Madrid took that plan to court; in response national government decreed a State of Alarm that along with lowered capacity and shortened hours, meant Madrileños theoretically couldn’t leave Madrid during the long weekend on October 12.

As you can see, it’s been a very busy month, governmentally speaking. The right wing Vox party even had time to put forward a no confidence vote in the government (it failed).

Meanwhile, Covid, which cares nothing for niceties or political parties, does what it does best — which is to grow.

The State of Alarm ends this Saturday at 4 p.m.. Did that mean we could go where ever we wanted? Honestly, I’d stopped paying a lot of attention. We wear our masks, we wash our hands, we keep our heads down. We do our best.

Late yesterday I remembered that there’d been a big press conference a few hours earlier and maybe I should check El Pais.

One change: socializing with people outside of your family will not be allowed between midnight and 6 a.m.

Another: 32 new heath areas —a health area is the part of a neighborhood serviced by a particular public health center — with more than 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants will be will be placed under “perimetral lockdown.”

Which means you can leave the area for school or work or to go to the doctor and that’s about it. I expected the list to be places I’d never heard of, but I’m sure you can guess what I’ve been leading up to with these dense background paragraphs. Our health area has been confined for 2 weeks, starting Monday morning. We can walk around freely within our roughly six block area but are subject to fines if we leave without justification.

There’s a saying in Spanish: El mundo es un pañuelo. The world is a handkerchief! This roughly translates as small world! and is what you say when you have unexpected connections.

For a few weeks, as Madrid moves from fall into winter, my world really will be the size of a handkerchief. This may be less of a physical hardship than it is a conceptual one. I can leave the area to go to Spanish class. And within our six blocks we have a department store, book stores, hardware stores, cheese shops, fishmongers, bakeries. But my pharmacy, where I always pick up my prescriptions, where they know my face and tolerate my language deficits with kindness, is just on the other side of the perimetral boundary.

Just how this experiment in hyper-local living is going to unfold is anyone’s guess.